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STRADELLA, Italy — Italian cyclist Alberto Bettiol timed his attack perfectly to win the 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia for his first victory in a Grand Tour, and Egan Bernal kept the leader’s pink jersey at the end of the race’s longest leg.

Bettiol, who rides for EF Education-Nippo, had plenty of time to sit up on his bicycle and repeatedly lift up his hands to encourage the home fans that lined the route to cheer louder as he approached the finish line.

“It means really, really a lot for me, for my team, and for the people that always believe in me,” the 27-year-old Bettiol said. “It’s a gift that I want to go to my former agent, Mauro Battaglini, that passed away last year, and was like a second father for me, so this victory is for him that for sure he looks on me from the sky.”

The 231-kilometer (144-mile) route from Rovereto to Stradella was mainly flat but ended with a series of short climbs through the rolling Pavia winelands.

Remi Cavagna appeared to be heading for the win after attacking on the approach to the fourth-category Castana climb and crossing with a 28-second advantage, but Bettiol had set off in pursuit and caught and passed the French time-trial champion with about seven kilometers remaining.

“The final was really hectic because a lot of guys looked at me, everybody were in my wheel, and I was sure that a strong guy like Remi Cavagna would try something,” Bettiol said. “Fortunately the final was really, really strong and really, really hard, and I could use my legs … and in the end I catch him, and I immediately attacked.”

Simone Consonni led the rest of the breakaway across, 17 seconds behind Bettiol. Nicolas Roche was third to complete an all-Italian podium.

Bernal crossed the line in the peloton, more than 23 minutes behind. The 2019 Tour de France champion maintained his lead of 2 minutes, 21 seconds over Damiano Caruso and 3:23 ahead of third-place Simon Yates.

“You can’t say you are overconfident because in just one bad day, you can lose everything,” Bernal said. “I have a lot of respect for the other guys and I need to be focused and just try do my best and that’s it.”

Friday’s 19th stage has been modified to bypass the top-category climb of the Mottarone after a cable car disaster there killed 14 people on Sunday. The new, slightly-shorter route nevertheless includes three categorized climbs – including a top-classed one to the finish – on the 166-kilometer (103-mile) leg from Abbiategrasso to Alpe di Mera.

The Giro finishes on Sunday in Milan with an individual time trial.

Bettiol gets 1st Grand Tour stage win, Bernal keeps Giro d’Italia lead originally appeared on